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Fun Words and Wasting Time

Still writing on the sequel to Cyber-Witch. Somehow it’s turned into a difficult task, although once I get to writing, the words flow well.

Meanwhile, here’s a fun word – one of my favorites, although I like them all:

Absquatulate — meaning to leave somewhere abruptly.

For some reason it always reminds me of the early Tarzan movies where Tarzan would say, “Umgahla.” (Or something like that.) The result was always that the elephant he was riding and any other nearby animals would abruptly leave the scene.

Based on that observation, Umgahla (or whatever it was that he said that sounded remotely similar) is Tarzanese for Absquatulate.

It’s just that having Tarzan holler, “Absquatulate!” seems a little out of character. It might have worked though. I’m of the opinion that most of the audience for those movies wouldn’t have known the difference. I could be wrong on that.

That’s enough rambling. Time to get back to Sophie and her problems. Most recently she’s been faced with a surreptitious attack that exploits her previous drug addiction. I’ve got to write the next few scenes in order to find out how she handles it.

On the other hand, it’s probably a good idea to write a section about another character and leave Sophie writhing in pain until I can get back to her. I’d like to find out how Snake is dealing with his (its?)* involuntary enslavement by Abubecar.

(its?)* — I can’t quite make up my mind how to deal with Snake, inasmuch as he/it is a nanite-based AI construction with some organic parts created from cells extracted from other creatures. The only thing I know is he is somehow becoming convinced that Sophie will be good to him if he ever contacts her again, despite his origin as part of a nanite-dragon that she mostly destroyed.)

The weird and strange way this story is developing is starting to get a little intimidating. Hope it works out the way I think it will.

More to come later.

Namaste!

Eric

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Writing Dangerously

One of my social media groups was discussing an interesting topic the other day. One that I have an opinion about, as a matter of fact. Here’s the question that started the thread (I’ve paraphrased it):

Due to my trepidation about being attacked by members of another group for asking about this, I’ve come here to ask: How important is message in stories? There is a general relationship between message and theme, but I’d like to know how much of your personal or social values do you put in your writing?

I read through the thread and concluded that in general, the consensus was it’s okay to put your values in your stories as long as you don’t preach and actively shove them in the reader’s face. The responses were thoughtful and not hysterical. (You can see why I favor that particular group.)

Here’s my personal opinion on the question:

You cannot help but instill at least part of your own values in a story since your values are both a result and a cause of how you view the world and your worldview informs your imagination.

I’m not saying it cannot be done, but I think it shouldn’t. Trying to suppress who you are while writing is tantamount to lying to your readers. I think they will, at some level, realize that and feel your story is inauthentic. That may be enough to steer them away from your work in the future. That is a result an author should strive to avoid.

On the other hand, I think you shouldn’t proselytize. That quickly gets boring for most readers and at least some of today’s readers have become sensitized by both cultural trends and education to the point that they find something to offend them in any opinion or story that varies from what they’ve been taught.

Styles of writing change and evolve, however. Modern fiction is mostly intended to entertain, but in the past, novels focused on particular values and often dropped them with all of the subtlety of hitting the reader on the head with a hod of bricks. Mark Twain used this analogy in one of his essays wherein he writes of a man who was killed by a bricklayer’s apprentice accidentally dropping his load from the roof. Twain wrote that humans were susceptible to such events, but dogs were not. That is because, as he observed, a dog would know enough to look up and would then get out of the way.

I would suggest that same foresight on the part of overly sensitive individuals would forestall a lot of the criticism directed at authors who don’t follow popular guidelines. In other words, if the book offends you, just put it down, but at least have the grace to allow others to make up their own minds about the value therein. Screaming for help and working to assemble a group attack on the author is the act of a cultural barbarian. If humans always condemned creative or different ideas, we would be sitting in a cave watching a fire and scratching flea bites.

I would argue that communicating cultural values is the main point of telling stories. Authors write stories because they love to entertain others (and would like to make money at it). They usually don’t set out to create morality plays, except in the case of some factions. There are specific groups who are actively writing science fiction and fantasy (I speak of the genre in which I write since I don’t read much else) who find it necessary to slam the reader in the face with their ideas about inclusiveness and diversity. Generally speaking, I find that such tales quickly become tedious and are often unreadable. However, I will defend the author’s right to write what they want. Let them proceed and let the market sort out the winning stories from the losers.

Let’s approach the issue from another angle. It is possible to gradually move your readers’ worldview, provided you tell a compelling story. That’s why I opt for positive character arcs that allow the protagonist to develop more self-responsibility. I firmly believe that is the first step in taking control of your life–stop being a victim of circumstances and others. Victims languish and complain. Those who have a modicum of self-responsibility will take action to change their results in life. There is no honor or glory in allowing oneself to be a victim since we always have a choice.

I firmly believe that a great author will always intend that some good come to the reader from the story. I realize that this is subject to challenge, but, overall, I think it is true. It’s just that “good” can be defined in so many different ways. Readers of horror stories find some value for which they seek, just as do readers of inspirational literature.

This viewpoint has gotten me in trouble with some ideological readers who are intolerant of any challenges to their worldview. (Fair warning: My stories are based on my love of self-responsibility, liberty, and the belief that reality is what it is and cannot be denied.) That bothered me at first because I naturally want to please everyone. Then I decided that my primary position is that if they opt to be offended, it’s their choice, not mine. I’ve found that anything in life that you cannot handle — anything that upsets you — will continue to present itself until you learn to deal with it with equanimity. As a result of my decision, I sometimes describe myself as a “dangerous” writer in the hopes that sensitive types will be warned.

As an object lesson, consider that cats always try to sit on the lap of the person in a group who most dislikes them. They’re brilliant that way and will go to great effort to help humans cope with their biases. Some dogs do the same, but with less regularity and forcefulness. Basically, the correct response here is to accept the cat’s attention and pet them. They will consider that their job is done and get on with other catness-related activities.

Ignoring them can work, but they can become importunate. In that case, you can always leave.

This last strategy also applies to critics. The general rule that all writers should understand is basically the same one that should be used with trolls in comment threads. That is to say, don’t engage with anyone who gives a hateful review. It only serves to validate their feeling of self-righteousness and stimulate them to further attacks. Of course, ignoring them may incite them also, but you don’t have to suffer their insults that way.

A person actively decides to be insulted or to ignore perceived slights. One can be offended by an entirely innocent remark directed at someone else, but that is a choice, not a mandatory requirement. Many people don’t understand that self-responsibility is a requirement for personal growth, civil discourse, and progress.

Here’s the takeaway point: if this post makes you angry … you (it’s not my responsibility) have to work on some issues:-)

Namaste!

 

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On the Horror of being a “Sitting Duck”

One of my FB groups just posted a challenge to write a 100 word horror story. I posted one. I’ve got to confess I’m both lazy and often tend towards being silly. Anyway I thought I’d share it with those of you who missed it on FB. It is silly, but it’s exactly one hundred words.

 

“On the Horror of being a Sitting Duck”

The alien battleship is coming over the horizon!
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one…
Stop the count-down clock. The launch button is stuck!
We’re toast!

 

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PLEISTOCENE CLIMATE: Writing notes from Heart of Fire Time of Ice

Example Clovis Projectile Point
Example Clovis Projectile Point

I’ve decided to post some of my notes from the time I was writing Heart of Fire Time of Ice in order to give you an insight into my writing process and also to explain (partly) the context in which I set the story.

I made the decision, when I was first starting to write novels, to research the known scientific aspects of all of my stories. (Some of my stories involve pure imagination, particularly when other planets and alien life-forms are involved.) There is a fine line between spending so much time researching that the story does not get written and simply making things up to give the story a superficial aspect of reality. I try to compromise, researching enough to provide meaningful and mostly scientifically accepted facts or at least theories, but not getting hung up on becoming an expert on the topics I’m researching. This post involves analyzing the climate factors that would have impacted the world that my main characters inhabit for most of the story.

Readers will know that the story involves time travel with a modern woman inadvertently transferred into the Pleistocene period. My heroine, Kathleen, ends up in the later part of the period known as the Younger Dryas. With that being said, I’ll present my notes below:

STORY RESEARCH and NOTES

Researching the Pleistocene forces one to become aware of the climate. The glaciers were the most prominent feature of life. Their presence modified climate, provided an avenue for man to colonize North America and impacted the migration routes and habits of animals. The glacial ice was thousands of feet thick and extended south past the present day Great Lakes.

Near the end of the Pleistocene, Earth had moved into a warming period, and the glaciers started to retreat and melt. The melt-water runoff mostly flowed down the Mississippi river valley. The water flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, was warmed in the shallows of the Gulf and eventually joined the Gulf Stream flowing north. The Gulf Stream acted as a conveyor belt to carry the warmer water’s heat to the northern part of the Atlantic.

The period of the Pleistocene known as the Younger Dryas was apparently initiated by a perfect storm of adverse events. One theory is that an asteroid struck the thickest part of the ice sheet above the Great Lake area. The impact would have vaporized the miles-thick ice, leaving no crater and no evidence and killed millions of creatures including any humans unfortunate enough to live nearby. This is the scenario that I use in the story. (Cadeyrin, the Clovis hunter who is the other main character, had heard of a huge flood when he was a child, and the weather had changed quickly after that event, causing his people to move westward.)

The meteorite (or possibly comet) would have freed melt-water and chunks of ice that could have blocked the Mississippi river. The theory is that the melt-water was then forced to find a new pathway, flowing into the north Atlantic along the St. Lawrence River.

The cold, fresh water would have the effect of displacing the Gulf Stream. Without its warming effect, the north Atlantic conveyor system would break down. This would have resulted in global temperature drops that would cause the glacial ice to begin to grow again.

The increase in glacial ice would then have locked up atmospheric water causing the climate to become vastly dryer. There is geological evidence of huge dust storms that killed vegetation during this period. This would starve the mega-fauna that depended on large amounts of easy grazing.

Based on what is called the Solutrean hypothesis (not currently held in favor by anthropologists), the Clovis people were present on the eastern coast of the North American continent (in fact, there are far more Clovis projectiles found there than elsewhere, lending credence to this idea). Dust and intense north Atlantic storms would probably have caused them to head west, searching for better conditions. It would be very cold and dry there, also, and that would result in less prey, forcing the humans to fight for resources. This scenario nicely sets up the story’s conflict between the Paleo-Indians and the Clovis people. It also works perfectly for my story, so that is why I selected it. In addition, it involves a migration of people from Europe that was quite likely possible. We know that Vikings reached the new world and possibly humans from Ireland and the British Isles, so why not an earlier migration, especially when the climate would have created very low sea levels, leaving the Grand Banks out of water and allowing men to hunt the forests which have left trees that are still found on the sea bottom there.

Thirty species of animals, including several species of rabbits and skunks, became extinct in the Younger Dryas, and Clovis technology also disappeared. Clovis projectiles were replaced with the Folsom variant and other forms of more modern arrowheads. Possibly the Clovis people themselves modified their signature projectile points into the Folsom form. There isn’t a tremendous difference in the points, save in the fluting. Extending the length of the center flute on both sides of the point seems to be a simple advancement that would allow the point to be re-sharpened and re-used more easily when broken.

The Younger Dryas period saw nearly eighty percent of the mega-fauna disappear, leaving mostly bison with a few of the other species. One would expect the carnivores to survive a little longer than herbivores. In the time of this story, the remaining carnivores have turned to scavenging hunted prey and predating on humans more than previously.

While it’s easy to make the assumption that the presence of humans with enhanced killing skills was responsible for the extinction of the large herd animals, it seems more probable to me that the harsh climate and lack of vegetation impacted the mega-fauna to a greater degree than the relatively few human hunters. Despite the near extinction of the American Bison by meat and hide hunters using firearms in the 1800’s, the Bison survived quite nicely for thousands of years prior to that, even while being hunted by the American Indians using Paleolithic weapons and fire-drives.

As to the thought that fire-drives caused the extinction of most of the mega-fauna, I would say that fire-drives depend upon large, open grasslands with dry grass to provide fuel. Lightning-caused fires often burn such areas, and the fauna would have been at least somewhat used to surviving burning prairies as a matter of course.

Still, without time-travel, it’s mostly speculation. However, this is a fictional story, after all, and who is to say that the world of Cadeyrin didn’t exist?

Should you want to read more, here’s a link to the story: Heart of Fire Time of Ice and to the sequel: All the Moments in Forever.

Thanks for reading!

Eric

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Nanowrimo — National Novel Writing Month — my new story

Brief Update:

I’ve been busy with Nanowrimo. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in November. I just hit 44,000 words on my next book. I’m happy with the way it’s going. After finishing ‘Confederation’, the 3rd installment of the Gaea Ascendant series, I was ready for a change. I’ll probably come back to that universe later. I’ve got at least one or two more stories that are set in it. But, I needed a break.

I’d been toying with either a time-travel story or a story set in pre-history, specifically in the Pleistocene. After corresponding with Dr. Quantum (Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D.) about his ideas on extraordinary time-travel, I made the decision to blend the two stories into one. It’s working well so far. I’ve just reached the point where the story has found its own voice and the characters are now telling me what they are going to do. The plot has fallen into place also.

I’ve got to admit that I’m a seat-of-the-pants author. I write about five to ten pages, telling the story in rough terms in what I think is the right sequence, then I push those notes ahead of me as I flesh out each scene. However, they are only suggested notes. The characters and story are still free to develop as they decide for themselves and they usually change things completely much to my surprise, but to the advantage of the story.

For this latest story, tentatively titled “Heart of Fire, Time of Ice” I did extensive research on the Clovis culture, the Younger Dryas period where global temperatures dropped an average of ten degrees in a year, and Pleistocene mega-fauna. Those topics were fun and pretty easy to encompass. Time-travel, on the other hand was not.

I admit that I’ve read probably more popular treatments of quantum physics in my spiritual and scientific studies than most people, but time-travel? Come’on now! Well, it turns out that quantum physics practically mandates that it must exist in some form or other. Fred Wolf has a unique take on the idea. He says in “The Yoga of Time Travel” that extraordinary time-travel is probably the way to go. By ‘extraordinary’ he means time-travel without wormholes, machines, or FTL travel. He suspects that all that is necessary is to wake up from a lucid dream in another time. Yeah, I know. Shocking ain’t it?

This approach is too easy. After all, we’ve got a long, long history of crazed inventors with weird clockwork machines or portals that they use to jump in time. Despite movies such as “Somewhere in Time”, I had the feeling that readers would have a hard time buying into the premise. This was a frightening prospect. I didn’t want a machine for logistic reasons and I liked the out-of-body aspect, having some experience with that phenomenon. So, I agonized for days over how to deal with the time jump. Finally, it struck me. My main character, a timid and reclusive female physics student, would develop a theory based on her meta-analysis of date from CERN. As she began to fully comprehend her formulas, she would experience instances of deja vu – sort of a precursor of her learning to travel in time. Finally, under extreme stress, she would make the jump.

It’s yet to be seen if most readers will enjoy this, but my preliminary readers have accepted it without a hiccup. Of course, maybe this is because the jump takes second place to her problems with survival and a certain Clovis culture hunter.

I’d like to do a preliminary cover reveal at this point. For this project, I wanted a softer look than my post-apocalyptic stories used and I found an artist who has done the subject justice. The background in this jpeg is in progress.

As an aside, the MCs have developed an attraction for each other and, though I’ve yet to see how it works out, the book is shaping up as science fiction/pre-historical speculation/romance. I’m a little nervous over the genre crossing, but the story seems to be very compelling, so I’m letting it go where it will.

Pleistocene1a

I hope to have it ready by Christmas, 2015. I’m feeling ambitious, since I just wrote almost 50k words in 15 days.

Namaste,

Eric

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Science Fiction’s Relationship to Science

Science Fiction and Science graphicThe title of this post may lead some readers to quip, “There is none,” but I think it can be demonstrated that speculative science fiction can play a valuable role in scientific endeavors.

Let’s begin by considering the scientific method. It’s basically a mental tool that has evolved to explain the phenomena of nature. It is supposed to be used in a way that leads to testable predictions that can be used by humans to manipulate their environment in a reproducible way. The steps of the method involve creating an hypothesis – a thought story or explanation of an observed phenomenon. The hypothesis must fit well with other known facts related to the phenomenon. Tools such as Occam’s Razor are often applied to ensure the hypothesis is as simple as possible.

The primary criterion for an hypothesis is that it lead to testable predictions. If it can’t be tested, then its explanatory value is roughly akin to that of magic. Science generally doesn’t operate on the basis of, “It happens because it happens,” or “It happens because of a wizard who wants it that way.” For those who are so minded, one can say, “It happens because the universe is so constituted,” but that still doesn’t fit the criteria for testability.

The hypothesis is used to create predictions and then experiments are designed to (hopefully) test the predictions. I’m not going to delve into the problems with experimenter bias except to state that it exists and can innocently lead to mistaken assumptions about how to test the predictions. Of course, there are those who are biased and who intentionally design experiments to prove their bias, or even falsely report the data. Modern science is vulnerable to such problems due to the selection of experiments with sexy, positive results for publication and the relationship of being published with tenure and grants. But, that’s a structural problem that can and mostly is overcome by careful and conscientious researchers. There can also be bias due to established scientific fables; things that are believed by a consensus of scientists that later turn out to be incorrect.

When a hypothesis generates predictions that turn out to be correct, it can be woven into existing knowledge to create a scientific theory – a logically reasoned and self-consistent model.

The benefits of this approach are well known. In essence, modern society is largely due to our use of science as a tool for manipulating our reality.

Now that we’ve looked at what science is, lets back up for a moment to the point before an hypothesis is generated. This may be during the progression of a course of research by a scientist or scientists, but it might also be the result of curiosity about a novel question asked by nearly anyone. This is where science fiction can come into play as an entertaining, but possibly useful method of asking questions.

The science fiction genre covers all sorts of stories ranging from those that postulate fictional (and often impossible) worlds, those that deal with social issues such as gender identity or political structures, and those which deal with worlds that are more in line with the reality we’re presented with daily. Those latter forms of speculative science fiction can postulate devices, principles, and discoveries. Devices can range from communication devices (who knew that Captain Kirk’s communicator would end up as a personal cell phone with an unlimited number of functions) to weapons such as rail guns, plasma cannon, etc. to space ships of various types.

Speculative science fiction read by the right person can lead that person to ask critical “what if” questions in a form that might eventually lead to scientific discoveries and thus to the creation of new tools that can be used by humans to, “Boldly go where no man has gone before,” and this result is not an insignificant or trivial thing. To the extent that speculative thought leads to creation of novel hypotheses, science fiction likely plays an heuristic role in human development.

In light of this conclusion, I’ve tried to create devices such as FTL engines, matter transporters, and weapons that are loosely related to current research or, at least, speculative theories. My crystal ball broke the day before I started writing, though, so I doubt that my speculative devices will come into existence – at least in the form that I’ve described in my books.

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Football, Leadership and Writing: Where’s My Spaceship?

It’s mid-week and I’ve been thinking about my weekend. On Saturday night I spent my valuable time watching football (…probably should have been writing instead).

I watched the Florida game and witnessed one of the saddest spectacles of sport: a team totally disintegrating during a game. The primary quarterback somehow lost the ability to lead that group of players and the backup was too inexperienced, even though the other players showed signs of being willing to be led by him. It reminded me of how different things can be given different leadership.

A few years ago, Tim Tebow led the Florida team and there was no question about where they were going. Tebow has that quality of leadership that makes others coalesce into a group that is more than the sum of the individuals participating. That’s the very definition of “team.” You might not like Tim’s public expression of his religion, but he is definitely a leader as he showed when he got the fleeting chance to steer the Broncos to a post-season win.

In the ego-driven world of the NFL, quarterbacks are supposed to lead the team on the field, but not create a stir off of it. Various teams turned down the opportunity to have him play for them based on some very dubious reasons. Considering that the man has spring-steel in his arms, saying that he can’t throw is pretty weak! Throwing motion can be changed, as he’s demonstrated. His problem is that he attracts too much attention and that makes management uncomfortable.

Back to Saturday night: It’s was interesting night, seeing teams win and loose – mostly due to the leadership factor or lack thereof. Once I got over missing Tebow, I began to relate football to the greater game that is being played with businesses and countries and people’s lives everyday. You don’t have to wait until the weekend to see some would-be leaders engage in folly while others demonstrate the utmost resolve. The world is a great classroom, if you take the time to observe.

It so happens that the concept of leadership has been on my mind a lot recently. I tried to show how it might appear in a man who was not thinking about leading or intending to do anything heroic, but instead, just working at his job in my story, “The Time of The Cat.” My hero, Declan Dunham, starts out his day working at his, admittedly rather daring, job and ends up leading a small group in an attempt to save the world.

The football watching experience made me wonder how well I did in representing leadership in my writing. So, I looked up some quotes on the subject. Here are three that describe my hero paired with my comments:

  • “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold Glasow

In the story, Dec gradually discovers the alien invasion plans and works as hard as he can to stop them before the plans fully come together.

  • “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” – Peter Drucker

He doesn’t worry about public relations or polls, he simply lets circumstances direct him towards the most disruptive actions he can immediately carry out. In other words, talking about what you’re going to do doesn’t hold a candle to actually doing something, as the next quote reiterates.

  • “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George Patton

Dec starts out way behind in the information department, not knowing what is happening and constantly playing catch-up until nearly the end of the story. However, he instinctively knows the value of positive action. He doesn’t dither around wondering what to do, but instead does whatever he can that might provide additional clarity to the situation and which might set the enemy back some in their plans.

Comparing his character to the following two additional quotes about leadership generates a little additional clarity:

  • “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” – Dwight Eisenhower

While Dec is not above co-opting any resources available to further his goal of stopping the alien invasion, he consistently acts in a manner designed to benefit all of mankind. When he steals a car, it is manifestly necessary. He does sometimes seem to enjoy taking advantage of other people’s stupidity, but it’s more in the nature of a lesson to them, rather than for personal gain.

  • “There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” – Fuchan Yuan

Finally, he doesn’t brag – much – (he’s not perfect), but he always is clear on what to do when the chips are down and he doesn’t stop to worry much about doing it either.

Now, let’s see if I can tie these various ideas together in a way that makes sense: When I wrote the story, I was partly motivated by my increasing level of frustration with what I see as the gradual deterioration of individual freedom and the foreclosure of opportunity that is becoming endemic in modern life. It seems clear to me that we (humans as a group) need a new way to live together. We’ve essentially reached the end of the road for our modified tribal behavior. We can either reset in one of the periodic violent episodes that history chronicles and then go back to doing the same thing over again, or we can reset and do something different.

Sometimes that happens. For example, the Black Death, in the period around 1350 AD, killed so many people in Europe that labor became scarce. The survivors were motivated to question authority, both secular and religious, since neither had been able to save them from the plague. The combination of these two factors, in part, led to a new way of doing things. People started looking for ways to mechanize production such as the printing press, mills for grain and cloth and so on. This eventually gave birth to the Renaissance; a break-point of human existence.

You might disagree, but I think that the world’s current political leaders are out-of-touch and focused primarily on their own agendas, driven by polling and living elaborate lives at public expense. None of them seem to recognize the negative effect that ideologically-driven policies have on human potential and advancement. As has been aptly observed numerous times, you can’t lead from behind, especially while worrying about what people think of you. Just as football teams fail without leadership, we’re all collectively suffering from the same problem; a lack of leadership paired with a lack of vision.

My hero, Dec, represents every man’s desire to take positive action to deal with problems. He doesn’t stop to ask for permission or wonder about legality or hurting feelings when he decides to act. Maybe we need more of that decisiveness in our own individual lives. My greater purpose in creating Dec’s character was to elucidate my belief that it’s time for new ways of thinking to arise; ways that will lead us into a new phase of advancement and allow us to provide scope for greater fulfillment of individual potential.

When I was in elementary school, it seemed obvious that space travel would be common by now. All I’m getting is a phone that tracks everything I do and a car that beeps an unneeded warning when I deliberately change lanes.  So, where’s my personal spaceship?

Namaste!

 

Should you want to read the book, here it is.

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We didn’t have a Middle School and Life Sucked Then Anyway!

We also didn’t have a Kindergarten. Oh, we did for two weeks. The elementary school decided to experiment with a preparatory class and my mother enrolled me. There were seven unfortunate children who had to miss out on two weeks of warm Autumn days that could have been better used playing outside in my then rather unformed opinion. About the only thing I remember was that one girl could count to twelve and it made me quite angry, since I could only count to five. I could see no reason for going higher. I only had five fingers on one hand and had to use the other hand to tick them off when counting. That’s about as much as was necessary in a small town of that era.

I couldn’t read either. I understand that children are more or less expected to have mastered calculus and classical literature by the time they enter first grade today. If not, they’re out of luck, since most of the teachers they’ll encounter won’t have the time to teach them. There is something to be said, however, for waiting until that special, critical-period of brain development that is reached as a child matures. My first grade teacher was a blessing. She had many years of experience at unlocking the mysteries of the printed word for her charges and once given her special kick-start, I became an inveterate reader.

Not having an actual flashlight at the time, I would take a D battery, a piece of wire and a flashlight bulb that I’d retrieved from a discarded light and contrive to hold them together with one hand while I turned pages with the other underneath the covers of my bed until long after my mother had told me to turn the lights out. She probably knew, but had the grace not to disabuse me of the notion that I was pulling something off.

It was really difficult to stop reading after bed time, I enjoyed it so much. Among other things, I learned that my imagination was far better at visualizing characters and scenes without pictures. When you’re given a picture, it limits the possibilities. When you watch video, you’re locked into a different mode of processing. It’s passive rather than active and I’ll submit that it leads to a different type of brain development. Perhaps not better or worse, but different.

Our fly-over-country, small-town school system was limited by the sparse population of the area. There was an elementary school that covered grades 1 through 8 and a high school that covered four years. The best I can say about the over-all experience was that it didn’t completely turn me off on the idea of learning. I was skinny and not a member of the popular clique (our town was so small that we only had one). I found much of the social dialogue then, as now, to be trivial. The teachers were either first years or on their way out of a mostly unsatisfactory career. I had a measure of success playing basketball for our high school, but what really saved me was when I discovered science fiction.

What a great find! I could hardly wait for my mother’s monthly drive to a nearby town for supplies. I could go into one or the other of two department stores that sold paperbacks and spend my pennies on reading material. (Yes, I am that old and books often sold for less than a dollar then.) The only problem that I had, was I’d often have my purchases read within a few days and then have to wait for the next shopping trip.

Given that pleasant experience, it’s now natural for me to be overly enthusiastic about e books. The convenience factor is wonderful. I will usually load up two or three novels in preparation for an airplane journey.

I tried my hand at writing early on and created a book on an electric typewriter that I still have somewhere – the book, I mean; not the typewriter. It might eventually find its way through the scanner and OCR process to be re-edited. As I recall, the plot wasn’t bad, but the execution was horrible. The writing process was painful, even with white-out. I felt that the introduction of computers into the writing process was a great advance, freeing authors from the fear of making mistakes.

I actually used an IBM 360a to write my dissertation in grad school. The machine was several tons in weight and occupied a huge, air-conditioned room in the university computing center. Using it was fun. I keypunched cards and kept them in a cardboard box in order (if you dropped the box and spilled the cards, you really had trouble). Then I’d carry the box over to the submission window after midnight and anxiously wait for the output in about 12 hours or so. The word processing program had only two commands: capitalize a letter and start a new paragraph (with the first letter capitalized). Corrections meant you had to retype the entire line on a new card and stick it into the box in the right place.

So, you can see that today’s computers and software are things that I really appreciate. I fell into the habit of writing about spiritual issues first, then succumbed to blog posts. My blogging led to my first Kindle book, a 280,000 word compilation of posts entailing funny stories and various observations about real estate sales.

A few years ago as I was re-reading an old sci-fi novel from the ’50s and had the thought that, “I could write as good a story as that.” This led to “The Time of the Cat.” This full-length book combines some of my favorite elements from other authors, namely smart cats, alien invasions, advanced weapons (thanks to Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey” for the splinter-gun idea) and psychic ability (James H. Schmitz’ Telezy character among others). It also owes a lot to my studies of quantum physics and new-age energy healing including extensive out-of-body meditation.

I deliberately chose to write it in the first-person-immediate mode. In real-life, you never quite know what is going on, not being omniscient, of course. This was a challenge, but it did allow me the opportunity to emphasize the fast-paced action of much of the story in a way that readers have told me makes it difficult to put the book down.

I now find that the primary problem facing today’s author is not writing or publishing – that’s easier than ever, but marketing the book. That’s a cat of a different sort entirely.

You can find a video trailer on this page and also the links to both Kindle and Amazon (if you prefer the old-fashioned paperback experience.)

Namaste!

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Why Do We Like Stories About Monsters?

I’ve got two problems. I love to read and I’ve always been overly optimistic about human nature. I hope for the best, but lately, it seems that just about everyone has set out to disappoint me. My wife tells me to just ignore the news, but the blasted stuff is so compelling. Compelling deliberately, because viewers and clicks sell advertising. Still, no matter where you look, you see examples of blind hatred, self-destructive antipathy, gross incompetence, and stupidity on Idiocracy levels.

Have you noticed that TV is usually several days behind in coverage of current events and it’s also pretty one-sided – the side depending, of course, on your choice of channel? My other news source, the Internet, is a hotbed of  “outrage porn.” No matter your personal predilection, you can always find at least one slant on a news item that really ticks you off. Unfortunately, whether you read one side’s view or the others or maybe even both, there’s a high likelihood that the actual facts don’t warrant either interpretation.

Despite all the divisiveness, I keep hoping that everyone will eventually get together and begin treating each other like they’d want to be treated themselves. It just never seems to happen in real life. People continue to find trivial things to disagree about. These little disagreements turn into big ones and the next thing you know, someone is dead or there’s a war somewhere or some people are being repressed violently by another group.

Humans apparently need enemies. It’s probably a result of our tribal origins. Despite wistful thinking or willful blindness, many humans think that their lives aren’t complete unless they have someone to hate, denigrate and fight. Perhaps it’s a neighbor who belongs to a different political party, church, race, sexual orientation, or maybe just combs their hair on the wrong side. It’s really all the same; they are worthy of hate because… You fill in the blank. If you don’t like being reminded of this, good! At least I got a response.

This sad state of affairs made me think, what would happen if humans had an external enemy, one that poised a serious threat to all of us. Would we pull together and stand as a group? This thought happened to become mixed up with another idea that I had. A few years ago, a French artist placed a non-working door on the blank side of a building. Today, the door gets mail delivered to it and the city maintenance people keep it clean. It’s become an established part of its neighborhood in Paris. When I read about it, my first thought was, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a functional matter transmitter hidden behind the door?”

Both of these ideas came together in book form and, naturally, they created a situation that required a man of action to deal with the alien enemies that just had to come through the matter transporter. I mean, what’s a matter transporter good for unless it provides access to the Earth for inimical creatures from another world? That’s where Declan Dunham came in. He’s competent and a good fighter, but he’s always been rather unsuccessful with women (although that’s about to change.) He also makes strategic mistakes at times, but he is definitely the man for the job when it comes to interfering with plans to invade the Earth.

Thanks to Dec, I realized that I like reading because it’s fun and a relaxing use of free time. On the other hand, writing is stressful, takes a lot of time and is a lot of work! To help him through this story, I spent my free time writing which inevitably cut down on the time available for reading. My goal was to work hard so you could spend your free time in an enjoyable manner. I made my characters risk their lives, so you can have fun. But, as I wrote, I realized that I was exploring what humans might do, if faced with an outside enemy. The story also deals with what it might be like to have our current system of living broken, forcing us to reset and rebuild in a new pattern. I sometimes think that we may have trapped ourselves and a full reset of our society might be necessary to progress.

I believe that most people aren’t in a position to take definitive action regarding things they don’t like about our world. Dec rather inadvertently finds himself in a situation which demands that he do something. Now, you can follow him through his difficulties from your armchair without working up a sweat. Trust me, it’s a lot easier that way. Who knows, perhaps you’ll come up with a thought that will lead to a whole new way of living for all of us.

Declan hasn’t stopped with the events in the first book. He’s now back up to his old tricks, busily trying to create as much havoc as possible in the second book of the series. The Second Wave will be released in December, 2014, so please watch for it! If you’d like an email notice that it’s available, connect with me using the widget on the right side of the screen.

Namaste!